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Nasrallah’s Waning Popularity By: Olivier Guitta
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 06, 2006


On the evidence of a massive demonstration of Hezbollah supporters in South Beirut on September 22, one might conclude that the terrorist army's commander, Hassan Nasrallah, is surfing on a wave of popularity.

But things are not as they appear. First, the “rent-a-crowd” tactic is well known in that region of the world and does not necessarily translate into popular support. Furthermore, scores of these demonstrators came from Africa and Iran. Nasrallah’s popularity, in other words, may not be a homegrown phenomenon.

Reinforcing that view is the fact that voices of dissent are starting to rise. A recent L’Orient Le Jour poll shows that the majority of Lebanese, 51 percent, want Hezbollah disarmed. Similarly, the French daily Le Figaro cited a stunning statistic: 47 percent of Lebanese do not think that Hezbollah won this summer's war against Israel.

While one might have expected the reversal of fortune of Nasrallah's movement among Christians and Sunnis, what's most surprising is that he is being attacked by some major figures in the Shi'ite community. One is the very well-respected mufti of Tyre, Sayeed Ali Al Amin. Like Nasrallah, he is a descendant of the prophet. In 1983, he was one of the original founders of Hezbollah. Yet he has been very vocal in attacking Nasrallah for what he calls “his illegal war against Israel.” Of that war, al-Amin has said: “Not only did Hezbollah not win the war but it was wrong to start it, Hezbollah has violated international resolutions and the Blue line [the border with Israel]. This kidnapping operation of the two soldiers was neither legitimate nor necessary.”

Al Amin's outspoken opposition has drawn notice. A headline in the An Nahar daily recently announced: “Ali Al Amin denies Amal and Hezbollah the right to speak for all the Shias." He has also vehemently criticized Hezbollah’s allegiance to Iran, which dearly cost the people of South Lebanon: “It’s not because Hezbollah has excellent relations with Iran that it’s the same for all Shias. Their allegiance should be to the motherland.”

Significantly, this is not the first time that al-Amin has challenged Hezbollah on its home turf. Following the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, al-Amin urged the Lebanese army to fill the security void in the south instead of Hezbollah. Then, three years ago, al-Amin started a group composed of about 100 Shi'ite intellectuals to call for reform and propose an alternative to Hezbollah. Although the initiative did not last -- members were physically threatened and the group failed to attract Western support -- it demonstrated that not all Lebanese Shi'ites march in lockstep with Hezbollah.

Other Shi'ite personalities, too, are finally speaking out. For instance, the academic Mona Fayad recently wrote in An Nahar that Shi'ites “are a people of heroes who know only one thing: to sacrifice themselves.” Vibrant testimonies are echoing this new rebellion against Hezbollah: the French Libération interviewed Habib, a Shi'ite living in the South, who asked: "What did we gain? Hundreds of dead and destroyed houses. The winners are Syria and Iran; they manipulate us, it’s like they have the remote control. The others are mum because they are scared of not getting the financial aid from Hezbollah.” 

Another major leader of the Shi'ite community, Ahmad Al Assaad, went further in criticizing Hezbollah. In a speech on September 17, he said: “Lebanese Shias are in danger because of the policies followed in their names. Without the money and the weapons, they could not speak in the name of all the Shias. Shias do not want to suffer anymore; they want to get rid of the culture of death.” Little by little, some in the Shi'ite community are rebelling against Hezbollah.

At the same time, a Shi'ite political heavyweight, Nabih Berry, is gaining popularity in his community. Berry is the head of the Amal movement, which has traditionally been the rival Shi'ite movement to Hezbollah, but has been politically marginalized by Hezbollah since the early 1990’s. Now, for the first time in years, green Amal flags are outnumbering Hezbollah’s yellow banners in some southern villages. Some young people had never seen that green flag before.

This may turn out to be a rebirth of Amal. What is more, if Amal really gains traction among Shi'ites with its more moderate views, it could mean real political trouble for Hezbollah. By attacking Israel, Nasrallah recently admitted, he committed his first major mistake. It may yet turn out to be fatal.

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Olivier Guitta is a Washington DC based foreign affairs consultant.


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